Twenty-two years after earning her bachelor’s degree, Liz Isherwood ’17 enrolled in the Master of Education in Counseling program at Stephens College. At the time, the 48-year-old was a wife, mother and full-time community support specialist at Burrell Behavioral Health in Columbia. Making time for college would be tough. But Isherwood was determined, and Stephens was willing to make it work.

“I’ve always wanted to help people and felt I had the right demeanor and personality for counseling,” Isherwood said. “Stephens was the one college in Columbia that could meet my needs as a student, wife, mom and full-time employee.”

On Dec. 15, Isherwood will deliver the graduate commencement speech for Stephens College graduation. She is among 40 undergraduate and graduate students who are receiving degrees at the event, which begins at 6 p.m. in the Kimball Ballroom of Lela Raney Wood Hall on the Stephens campus.

Isherwood, who grew up in Steelville, Mo., and received a degree in social work from Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University), said she always intended to go back to school for a master’s degree, but life got in the way.

In 2013, after Isherwood, her husband and daughter moved to Columbia, she thought the time was right to begin pursuing her dream. A coworker at Burrell Behavioral Health had attended Stephens and told her about the counseling program.

Isherwood explored her options and was drawn to the intimacy of the Stephens program.

“It had been a long time since I had been in school, and the small class sizes and intimacy at Stephens, I felt, would help me adjust to college life again,” she said.

Still, there have been challenges like adjusting to today’s technology in the classroom.

“The biggest technology I had in undergrad was using an electric typewriter,” Isherwood said. “We didn’t upload papers to Canvas or take exams online.”

But learning how to juggle school, family and a full-time job has been her greatest challenge. Isherwood, who now works for the Missouri Department of Mental, said sacrificing time with her family has been difficult and explaining it to her 8-year-old daughter has been even harder.

“Sometimes it has been hard for my daughter to understand that mommy must go to class or do homework instead of playing with her,” Isherwood said. “I would always try to remind her that I am doing this for our family. 

“I want her to see that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to at any age and time in her life. She can be a successful, educated woman while also being a mom and/or a spouse.”

Gina Sanders, assistant professor and director of the M.Ed. Counseling program, has seen Isherwood work with clients during practicum class and knows she has a bright future as a counselor. 

“Liz connects really well with her clients and has taken faculty, peer and site supervisor feedback to help fine-tune her skills,” Sanders said. “One of the questions I ask myself when a student is at the end of her training is, ‘Would I be willing to refer one of my friends or a family member to this trainee for counseling?’ The answer with Liz is a resounding, ‘Yes!’”  

Isherwood said she’s learned far more than how to be an effective counselor during her time at Stephens.

“Stephens and the faculty of the counseling program have given me the confidence to be a great counselor,” she said. “I also learned that I could be a mom, a wife, an employee and a student and survive. I have learned that I am stronger than I thought, more determined than I thought, and more capable than I thought.”

Isherwood said her biggest inspiration was her classmates, most of who were just like her: nontraditional.

“I think we have tried to inspire each other and to motivate each other and keep each other going,” she said. “My advice to others is to not be afraid. There will be sacrifices, and you may feel all you do is read, take tests and write papers.

“However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the journey is totally worth it.”

Tags : Student Success, School of Health Sciences

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